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My plan was to focus my senior year on information I could use after graduation when I set out for Planet Earth from the Pluto that is Trout, Idaho, population 943. My SATs said I wasn't even close to brain-dead and I was set to be accepted at any college I chose, as long as I chose one that would accept me. A lot of guys use their senior year to coast; catch up on partying and reward themselves for making it this far. Not me. This was my year to read everything I could get my hands on, to speak up, push myself and my teachers to get the true hot poop on the World At Large, so I could hit the ground running. How big a pain in the ass do you think that would make me in Mr. Lambeer's U.S. government/current events class, where Lambeer regularly alters reality with the zeal of an evangelical senator?
I also intended to shock the elite by etching my name atop the winner's board at the state cross-country meet, then come home to take Dallas Suzuki by surprise. Dallas Suzuki may sound to you like a car dealership in Texas, but for the past three years, she has been the single prey in the crosshairs of my Cupid's bow, and she doesn't know it because she is way, way out of my league.
Then, about two weeks after my eighteenth birthday, a month and a half before beginning my final year at Trout High, I discovered I'll be lucky to be there at the finish. A warning like that usually comes from the school office, to be ignored until the third notice, but this was from The Office Above The Office and was to be attended to immediately.
Doc Wagner left a phone message a few days after my routine cross-country physical; he wanted to see me with my parents in his office either ASAP or pronto. There was gravity in his voice, so I decided I'd better scout ahead to see if his message was PG-13 and suited for all, or R-rated and just for me. Turned out to be X.
"Hey, Ben," he said as he passed me in the waiting room. "where are your folks?"
"They couldn't make it."
"I'd really prefer they were here."
"My mom's . . . well, you know my mom; and Dad's on the truck."
"I'm afraid I have to insist," he said.
"I'll relay the information. Promise."
He said it again. "I'm afraid I have to insist."
"Insist all you want, my good man," I said back. "I'm eighteen, an adult in the eyes of the election board and the Selective Service and your people, the American Medical Association. I decide who gets the goods on yours truly." Dr. Wagner has known my family since before I was born and was plenty used to my smart-ass attitude. He's delivered probably 80 percent of the town's population my age and under, including my brother, and I'm not even close to his worst work. He also delivered Sooner Cowans.
"I don't feel right talking about this without your parents, Ben," he said, walking me toward the examination room. "But I guess you leave me no choice."
"I leave you exactly that," I said. "Lay it on me."
And lay it on me he did, and I am no longer quite so glib.
He sat on the stainless-steel swivel stool, a hand on my knee, staring sadly.
I said, "You're sure about this, right? There's no doubt?"
"There's no doubt. I sent your tests to Boise and they sent them to the most reputable clinic in the country. We can run them again, but unless your blood was mixed with somebody else's—and yours is the only blood I took that day—it's pretty much a lock. We have to get right on it. Otherwise you'll be lucky to have a year."
Doc took another blood sample, to be sure. I watched him mark it, but I knew the original tests were mine.
"Okay," I said, rolling down my sleeve. "Lemme sit with this a minute, all right?"
"You got no sharp instruments in here, Doc, and nothing to make a noose. Go," I said, fighting the urge to let him stay. That's my curse: give me the bad news and I'll take care of you. I thank my mother for that.
Doc rose, and he looked old. He stood at the door, watching me over the top of his glasses, the cliché of a small-town doctor. The door closed behind him and I stared out the window, letting his words settle into my chest. Otherwise you'll be lucky to have a year.
The leaves of an ancient cottonwood outside the window danced in the bright sunlight, and I was breathless. I sat, digesting the indigestible, adrenaline shooting to my extremities as if I were strapped to an out-of-control whirling dervish. I was thinking of my mom. How in the world do I tell her this?
All my mother ever wanted was to be a good mother and a good wife, but that's not as easy as it sounds—for her at least—because she's crazy. She's either moving at warp speed or crashed in her room with the shades pulled. No gears in between. She calls herself a stay-at-home mom, but when she does stay at home, it's all you can do to get her out of her locked bedroom, and when she's not at home, she could be at the Chamber of Commerce or the Civic Club or any of a number of bridge or book clubs.
When Cody and Dad come home to a dark house, Mom's door closed tight like that of a dungeon, they pretend she's on vacation. I'm the one who tries to get in and make her feel better. File that under Don Quixote. Dad has his own bedroom because he's . . .Deadline. Copyright © by Chris Crutcher. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Deadline by Chris Crutcher
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